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Ghost of 666 yet to be buried

By Philip Golingai

Peter Mojuntin, the then Sabah Local and Housing Minister, was a living legend. Even today, 36 years after his death, his name is spoken with reverence.

HERE’S my recollection of the “Triple Six” tragedy which struck Sabah on June 6, 1976. That year, I was nine years old. It was a Sunday and I was at a wooden house that was my family’s weekend getaway in Kampung Pogunon, Penampang.

News – probably from the radio – trickled through that a Nomad aircraft had crashed in Sembulan, about 16km from my village, as it was about to land at Kota Kinabalu airport at around 3.30pm.

There was talk that some Sabah ministers were onboard the aircraft and they had been rushed to hospital.

There were also rumours that Datuk Peter Mojuntin, the state Local and Housing Minister and assemblyman for Moyog (part of the Penampang parliamentary constituency), was onboard.

Daddy’s boy: Donald is seen sitting on Peter’s lap during a function in Sabah in this file photo.

The 36-year-old politician was known as the people’s politician.

There was a famous story of him eating nomsoom (a pickled Kadazandusun dish) which was infested with worms as he did not want to offend his host.

I remember hoping that Peter would survive the crash.

My childish hope was that doctors would keep him alive using “bionic technology”.

In 1976, one of the most popular TV shows (in black and white) was the Six Million Dollar Man.

It was about an American astronaut with bionic implants.

There were no survivors.

Eleven people were killed, including Sabah Chief Minister Tun Fuad Stephens, Peter, Datuk Salleh Sulong (state Finance Minister), Chong Thain Vun (state Communications and Works Minister), Darius Binion (assistant to the Chief Minister) and Johari (Tun Fuad’s adopted son).

They were returning from Labuan after negotiating Sabah’s oil and gas rights.

To quote The Sabahan: The Life and Death of Tun Fuad Stephens by P.J. Granville-Edge and Rajen Devadason, “In 1976 when the crash occurred on a clear, sunny afternoon, ‘sabotage’ was on the tongues of most Sabahans – it happened 53 days after Berjaya had won the state election, and bombs had been going off in the state, after all.”

I remember being part of a long queue of thousands of grieving people at St Michael’s Church in Penampang to pay our last respects to Peter.

Peter was a living legend.

Even today, 36 years after his death, his name is spoken with reverence.

An autobiography of Peter, titled The Golden Son of the Kadazan, written by Bernard Santa Maria just after the tragedy, is still banned.

I don’t remember if I saw an 11-year-old boy (together with his family) standing next to his father’s body.

The boy, Donald Mojuntin (his dad named him after Donald Stephens – who later became Tun Fuad – because he was a close friend and mentor), was engrossed in his pain and oblivious of the crowd.

“I was old enough to realise that my father was asleep, and he would never wake up,” recalled Datuk Donald Mojuntin, who is now a 47-year-old politician.

“The pain was indescribable. I felt hollow inside ... grief, sadness.

“I kept wondering why this had happened to my father.”

Donald, the assemblyman representing the constituency his dad once held, is an assistant Finance Minister.

The Upko information chief became a lawmaker when he won the Penampang parliamentary seat in 2004.

Donald said the aircraft crash spurred him to mature faster as he was the eldest of five siblings.

The mysterious nature of his father’s death traumatised him.

“Many people (when I was growing up) said it was not an accident but an act of sabotage. When we were young, we were affected by that,” he said.

As a teenager, Donald’s heart was filled with pain and anger over the “Triple Six” tragedy.

“It was not like a switch ... that I could just switch off.

“It affected my studies when I was doing my O and A levels in England,” he said.

Closure came gradually.

“I can’t pinpoint when exactly I had total closure ... perhaps when I completed my law degree in 1991,” he said.

“What happened is the past. If there was foul play, my family cannot be the judge of it; only God will deal with those who were involved.”

“How do you feel now?” I asked.

“I feel sad. I don’t feel like talking about it. Up until this day, I still feel pain especially now, as in front of me is a man who is in his 70s. My father would be the same age if he was still with us,” he said in a phone interview.

“And there are still many people who want to know what really happened on that day.”

The ghost of 6.6.76 is yet to be buried.

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